Who is it really that we teach? Sometimes it feels that it isn’t our students at all; we learn – or relearn, or unlearn – far more because of them, much more than we give to them.
If it were up to me, I’d start by teaching grandparents, then parents and leave youth for last. It doesn’t work that way though. Yet, we have to recognize that there is learning happening in our students’ environment as a whole, extreme learning.When our focus is on teaching someone a language, it seems we often take it as simply another task. We plan and organize our syllabus, we set timetables and announce our modus operandi to the parents. We might be assertive enough to escape without alterations, or too compliant and result in having nightmares about how this lesson will turn out. Or we could be somewhere in the middle and able to be both assertive and flexible.
Let’s shift focus. How about using language teaching to cultivate a culture of learning? No matter how demanding such a shift may sound, it provides us with something powerful: wholesome learners. And wholesome learners never stand alone. Apart from us as teachers, they have everyone else to learn from and teach to. Parents come first on this list. Parents are their, and our, constant.
As every year, especially since freelancing and tutoring became my norm, my students’ parents reserve a very special place. There are the ones who for years have trusted me with their children, no questions asked. The ones who might ask a thing or two, but never interfere. And also the parents who are full of questions and demands, but who still put all their faith in me. I am truly grateful to know all of them.
Showing gratitude to parents is one thing. It’s something I do each day, not because I have to, but because I do, because it comes naturally. What really matters though is that this expression of gratitude is mutual.
I consider the need for teacher-parent meetings obvious. Not only in the class their children will be spending hours in, or in the room of the house reserved for lessons. Quality time happens elsewhere too, same as with learning. It takes shape both online and offline. What they need to know about the lessons, I send online. If they’re uncomfortable with that, I help them to be comfortable. We move forward together.
What they need to know about me, I share in person. Particularly when it comes to tutoring, whether face-to-face or online, I try and bring all parents together for a coffee somewhere out. Exchanging views with other parents and me simultaneously builds up to the comprehension of what I do and why. Our relationship is not so much one of friendship, but one of mutual understanding.
It’s true that with some I’m almost a family member, mostly the ones that I have taught for a long time and through generations – starting with the parent-to-be, then the spouse, then the children. Or the other way around. In all cases, though, the warmth of gratitude just emanates from everything; the coffee prepared and waiting for me, the invitation to their table before an early or late lesson, the phone calls because they saw something that reminded them of me. Exactly what I do myself.
Above all, it’s the involvement in what we do during our learning. There has never been a student project without the family helping out. Never an assignment without parents being the first to see the result, before me even. And there has never been a moment when the parents aren’t informed of what we do and where it leads.
Not so long ago, while tutoring at a student’s house, I happened to pick up a piece of paper off the floor. It didn’t say much, just some notes and chores for the day; but giving it back to its owner unleashed an unexpected, but much needed, river-flow of thoughts. Sometimes we have to work more with the parents, so we can better understand their children. I’m grateful for that unexpected moment too, because it showed me how to overcome their child’s learning challenges.
It’s not about pursuing a relationship with the parents. If it is to happen, it will, regardless of how fatalistic almost this sounds. Being honest in all you do is really the key. Keep parents informed, from day one. Show them what you do, bring them in the learning world. Allow them their opinion, only be prepared to prove them wrong, if need be.
And thank them, every time. They have trusted you with their future. Do that on the spot, or through a text, through social media even. With my tutoring classes, I usually create ‘thank you’ boards – actual and virtual – and we always leave a note for mum and dad too. It’s part of our routine and it brings us all together.